Learning Chinese requires good perspective

Learning Chinese requires good perspective

It seems all students of Chinese have the same experience at some point in the study – they feel that they just aren’t making the progress they want to. I have experienced this myself, and it is currently true of one of our students at our language school here in Beijing who I met up with over lunch today.

Now, it may be that for some people they are experiencing frustration and disillusionment because they are approaching their language study in the wrong way, or simply not allocating enough time to their study. For these people it is worth taking time to stop and look at your goals, and what it is going to take to reach those goals.

But in the case of this student who is having 10 hours of 1on1 tuition each week, and topping that up with at least 20 hours of self-study, and plenty of social interaction with Chinese friends, he is doing all the right things, he is making really good progress, but he just doesn’t feel it, and he would rather the progress was quicker.

For this student, and others in similar positions, let me share with you a helpful poem that my father once shared with me.

T.T.T by Piet Hein

TTT illustration for the poem by Piet Hein

Put up in a place
where it’s easy to see
the cryptic admonishment
T.T.T.

When you feel how depressingly
slowly you climb,
it’s well to remember that
Things Take Time./


On a similar theme, you might want to check out Olle Linge’s recent helpful posts on Hacking Chinese of persevering with Chinese when you are lacking motivation.

Speaking Chinese with Feeling: Patience Required

It was September 2007, at the age of 50, when I first began to study Chinese. Because of my age I felt strongly that joining young enthusiastic university students in a group class just wasn’t going to cut it for me, so I signed up for 1-on-1 classes, and there the journey began.

 

This post however is not about the long journey, on which path I am still on, it is rather about one small aspect of that journey – learning how to speak Mandarin with feeling…. like a Chinese, without sacrificing quality of tones or pronunciation.

 

Now I know everyone is different, but I think there is a common rule for all of us when we begin learning Mandarin. That is, to nail down all of the sounds and simultaneously train the ear to hear and the voice to speak the tones correctly, including the rule exceptions. We’ve all seen the initials-finals charts, and observed how the tones are explained in a graph format to help us understand how much movement each requires, and the relative tone ranges. You’ve also likely tried to mimic a teacher in class, whether in a group or 1-on-1.

 

But I believe there is another rule to be added and that is to begin by speaking the language almost as if it was a musical score, or even more simply stated, by coloring inside the lines. What I mean is to think of the language as being very fixed, all of the tones individually and always beginning and ending at the same place, extremely mechanical if you will.

 

We’ve all listened to native speakers, and we know they don’t speak mechanically. But then again they began listening to Chinese right out of the womb.

 

Speaking from the experience of beginning late, what I learned is that after having built a foundation of learning and practicing Chinese tones in a mechanical way, it became much easier to slowly transition into a much more natural expressive Chinese.

IMG_7056

As with English, Chinese is not mechanical. Ideas, humor, sadness, all types and levels of emotion can be expressed without abolishing the tones (with the possible exception of extreme anger). As with English each phrase flows with a tone all it’s own, going up or down in order to express one’s feelings.

 

The point is this. Begin with a strict adherence to the tones, without the natural flow of native language, and you will eventually be capable of expressing yourself with accurate tones, the same feelings that come so naturally in your native tongue and touch the heart of your Chinese friends.

How many characters do you need to read a Chinese newspaper

When I first started learning Chinese then every new character learnt was a success. When I reached the 100 characters benchmark, I was really pleased, but I knew I had a long way to go because I had heard before that you needed 2000 characters to read a newspaper.

Well we have been studying for over a year now and we are probably able to recognise well over 1000 distinct characters with a good idea of both their meaning and their pronunciation. So, to have an idea of my progress, I thought I would have a go at seeing how much that allowed me to understand of a news article.

To do this I went to baidu news (baidu is the Chinese equivalent of google), and went to their international news section, and picked out the first two paragraphs from their leading article. Those two paragraphs are reproduced below. Characters highlighted in red are those that I definitely don’t recognise.

有关“中国要返数十名北者”的消息近日被 韩国体热炒。据韩国《东亚日报》2月24日报道,韩国 政府和在野党目前正考虑给在中国被并 面临被强制返的“脱北者”发行“韩国民证明书”,支持他们的韩国行。

根据韩国政策员长李英的介绍,韩国新世界党23日在国会了有外交通商部长官金成一部次官金天植参加的党政议会,讨论了上对策。韩国党政还决定,将向 中国派朝野都参加的 国会代表团,也决定向中国的“红十字会”发出请求,要 求对“脱北者”的人道性待遇 给予支持。

Initially the result might look quite encouraging. Only 14 characters out of 197 suggests that we can understand a remarkable 93% of the content!?

However, although each Chinese characters has a specific meaning, the majority of Chinese words in use today are not expressed by a single character but by characters in combination of two or three together.

For instance, the very first word in the article is “有关”. Most students studying chinese will be very familiar with both these characters “有” meaning to have, 关 meaning any of: to close, to shut off, concerning, or a mountain pass. But 有关 to me is a new word meaning “concerning”. Simple enough, but until you have learnt it, then it is as easy to wrongly read that as “have closed”, “have shut of”, or even “I have a mountain pass”.

If we look at the text again, but now taking into account which words rather than characters are new to me then a much more realistic picture emerges: characters which I don’t know are highlighted in red, words I don’t know in purple.

有关“中国要返数十名北者”的消息近日被 韩国热炒。据韩国《东亚日报》2月24日报道,韩国 政府和在野党目前正考虑给在中国被并面被强制返的“脱北者”发行“韩国民证明书”,支持他们的韩国行。

根据韩国政策员长李的介绍,韩国新世界党23日在国会了有外交通商部长官金成一部次官金天植参加的党政议会,讨论了上对策。韩国党政还决定,将向 中国派朝野都参加的 国会代表团,也决定向中国的“红十字会”发出请求,要 求对“脱北者”的人道性待遇 给予支持

It is now clear that there isn’t a single sentence that I can completely understand. Of course, there are mitigating factors here. This article contains words relating to international politics that are not included in Chinese 101, and it also contains people’s names, which also aren’t of a first priority for a language student.

Overall though, I am encouraged. I could understand enough of the article to have an idea what it was talking about, even if I wasn’t picking up the details. It is also clear to me that whilst it is important to continue building up your knowledge of distinct characters, the language learner needs to also be building a much wider vocabulary using compound characters. Jia you.

http://news.baidu.com/n?cmd=2&class=internews&page=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.gog.com.cn%2Fsystem%2F2012%2F02%2F24%2F011354159.shtml&cls=internews

 

How to learn Chinese characters (p-1)

If you are a westerner then learning Chinese characters is going to be hard and require months and years of study. But there are many things you can do to make the task slightly easier. One resource that I have been recently using is a book called “Rembering Simplified Hanzi 1” by Heisig and Richardson.

It is not a cheap book, but the book’s subtitle tells you why it could be invaluable: “How not to forget the meaning and writing of Chinese characters”. You see it can be relatively easy to learn a new character, you look at it, hide it, and then draw it a few times and in theory you have learnt it – but the hard part is remembering that same character later on.

Now Heisig’s approach is slower but more efficient! When learning each character you will spend more time learning it than with the first approach, but you save time in the long run because having learnt it once you don’t forget it, either to read or to write. A remarkable claim!

A further claim of Heisig is that “if you were to study them full time, there is no reason why all 1,500 characters in Book 1 could not be learned successfully in four to five weeks”.

The key to Heisig’s approach is that he gives you stories that stick in your mind that relate the meaning of the character to the component parts. The stories are purposefully vivid and unbelievable, but that makes them very simple to remember, and as long as you remember the crazy story then the character is straightforward to write. Therefore his book systematically teaches characters so that new characters build upon the previously learnt characters.

Below is the link of the book 《Rembering Simplified Hanzi》on Amazon.

Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese CharactersLearn Chinese Books)

 

 

How to study Chinese – Learning style

It’s been a while since our last post, however, we are trying to update our blog more often and with more posts focused on Chinese language.  Today, is our first post about learning style.

Thinking about studying fills some people with dread, others may really enjoy the though of a new challenge. Whatever your perspective is on studying, when it comes to studying Mandarin, one thing is almost certainly true – it needs a lot of effort and perseverance.

I have only been studying Mandarin a few months, but I have found it really helpful to consider different tips I have learnt over many previous years of study, and to see how I can apply these to studying Mandarin.

The first is that it is useful to know your learning style.

There is a plethora of research available regarding learning styles. A simple summary is that there are four parts to people’s learning styles, each with opposite ends to the spectrum. Most people will not be at either extreme of any of the styles, but it is something useful to consider.

Style

Explanation

Sensory

Like facts

Vs

Intuitive

Like meanings

Visual

Like visual representations

Vs

Verbal

Like explanations with words

Active

Like experimental and group learning

Vs

Reflective

Like to work through problems on their own

Sequential

Like details before the ‘Big picture’

Vs

Global

Like the big picture first, details later

 

I’ve put this first as (if you have a choice!) knowing your learning style can help you to decide where you want to do your learning. This is especially important if you are time pressured, as ending up trying to learn somewhere where there seems to be no real connection with your teachers will be a frustrating experience at best!  I like to know details, and the ‘why?’ of things, so to be in a one to one Chinese class setting is ideal, as I am able to ask immediately if I don’t understand something. However, if you really like group learning, a one to one setting may be more of a hindrance than a help.

 

Learn Chinese Through Listening to Chinese Music

google-musicA small follow-up of our previous post on methods on how to learn Chinese by watching Chinese TV shows, another way that you can improve your Chinese is to listen to and learn Chinese songs- and don’t forget to put it all to practice by going to the KTV with your friends!

There are many online music streaming websites in China, but one of the popular ones that I enjoy to use is Google China’s 谷歌音乐 (Google Music), however I believe that this service may only work for users who are located within China, as I know that users from the US aren’t able to connect to this service.


We’ll walk through some of the basic features of the Google Music website.

google-music-menu

Looking first at the search bar, we can see several options of searching for the music that you’re looking for:

In the search bar, you can search for songs [搜索音乐] sou1suo3 yin1yue4, or you can search the website [搜索网页] sou1suo3 wang3ye4:

[输入歌手] shu1ru4 ge1shou3: Enter singer’s name

[专辑] zhuan1ji2: Enter album name

[歌曲名称或歌词] ge1qu3ming2cheng1 huo4 ge1ci2: Enter song name or lyrics


google-music-menu

You can also browse the website by looking through the menu:

[首页] shou3ye4: Home page

[排行榜] pai2hang2bang3: Browse by top charts

[音乐分类] yin1yue4 fen1lei4: Browse by song genre

[挑歌] tiao2ge1: Customized selection

[歌手库] ge1shou3ku4: Browse by artist name

[私房歌] si1fang2 ge1: Artist’s recommendations


google-music-homepage

On the homepage, the main view lets you browse by songs of different languages:

[语榜单] hua2yu3 bang4dan1: Chinese Songs

[欧美榜单] ou1mei3 bang4dan1: Europe and American Songs

[日韩榜单] ri4han2 bang4dan1: Japanese and Korean Songs


You can also see a listing of new songs, and popular songs of each language category, and on the very far right, a listing of the popular artists.

[新歌] xin1ge1: New songs

[热歌] re4ge1: Popular songs

[歌手] ge1shou3: Artists


Hopefully this gives you a good start on browsing Google China’s Music service, and will help you on your way in improving your Chinese language learning. [Google Music]

If you have any other popular Chinese music streaming websites that you like to use, be sure to share them with the rest of us in the comments!

Learning Chinese Through Listening – Stream Chinese TV Dramas Online

Chinese TV Drama Online StreamingThe three mantras that seem to be drilled into any student trying to learn the Chinese language is: “多看, 多说, 多听” (duo4kan4, duo4shuo4, duo4ting1), meaning: “read a lot, speak a lot, and listen a lot”, of Chinese that is.

Moving to China to live or study is one way to practice these three directives, however, probably not an option everyone can take. One other way to help with your Chinese learning is to pick up a Chinese TV drama to follow, and I’ve heard many-a-story of friends learning to speak Chinese, or a dialect of Chinese by watching a Chinese TV series.

Fortunately, there are many options and methods of finding Chinese TV shows to follow online, and which also allow you to stream the shows online for free as well.

Youku, iqiyi, QQ video, Sohu video and Sina video are five popular websites that are solely dedicated to not only  streaming Chinese TV dramas online, but also Chinese movies online .

For more information about those five Chinese video websites, please see my another post here :  http://blog.1on1mandarin.com/chinese-video/

 

Read Bilingual News, Learn Chinese

Check out sl.iciba.com to read current news with English on the top and Chinese on the bottom. Although there is no pinyin, you can see the meaning of Chinese words in their context.

In the definition window you can see definitions and bilingual example sentences, although many of the example sentences seem quite obscure. You can also search for other Chinese words directly from the pop-up window.

sl.iciba.com

Do you have any other useful English/Chinese bilingual websites? Share them in the comments.

Free language resource: How to Learn Chinese

Please download How to learn Chinese Guide and feel free to share with your friends.

This useful guide covers topics such as learning Chinese strategies, learning styles, maintaining motivation, overcoming barriers, memorizing vocabulary, and various other issues. Now freely available online with hard copies available at our Chinese language school in Beijing.

We’ve heard some positive feedback about this practical learning Chinese guide from our current students. Hope it’ll help you improve your Chinese as well!

One of the most useful sections is about learning Chinese  strategies. These chapters contain ideas such as different ways to use flash cards, recording yourself, saying the action that you are doing, grouping items or topics, labeling items, or looking for similarities. Other useful topics include maintaining motivation and learning from high achievers.

If you’ve downloaded and read some of the content, or have tried it out, let us know your thoughts down in the comments.

P.S. if you prefer to read or download individual chapters online, please see our How to learn Chinese page.

 

China news websites in Chinese

It’s been awhile since last post,  part of reason is that one of our main blogger Sarah was busy with another program and now she is leaving for US to pursue her musical dream. She is one of the most awesome person I’ve ever worked with, all the best for Sarah.

Today, we’d like to introduce some China news sites,  if want to practice and challenge your reading, below are some websites would be very helpful.

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*download updated version [download id="2"]

Google资讯-Google Chinese news

http://news.google.cn/

南方周末-Southern Weekend

http://www.infzm.com/

凤凰网-Ifeng (Hong Kong)

http://ifeng.com/

新加坡联合早报网-Singapore Zaobao

http://www.zaobao.com/

经济和金融-Economics and Finance

FT中文网-Financial Times in Chinese

http://www.ftchinese.com/index.php

华尔街日报-Wall Street Journal in Chinese

http://cn.wsj.com

财经网

http://www.caijing.com.cn/

IT and Internet

http://www.techweb.com.cn

http://www.itxinwen.com IT新闻网

基督教新闻-China Christian News

Gospel Herald, http://www.gospelherald.cn/

Gospel Times, http://www.gospeltimes.cn/